The city of Keene is considering hiring consultants to help develop a community power plan, one piece of a broader initiative to transition the city to 100 percent renewable energy in the coming decades.
In an unanimous vote Thursday night, the City Council’s Finance, Organization and Personnel Committee recommended authorizing City Manager Elizabeth Dragon to negotiate a joint contract with the consulting firms Good Energy L.P. and Standard Power of America Inc., based in New York City and Nashua, respectively.
Essentially, community power means that a municipality like Keene would determine where the electricity that local customers use is sourced from. For instance, it could procure that power entirely from renewable sources. A utility like Eversource would still deliver the electricity through its existing infrastructure.
Customers in Keene would be automatically enrolled but would be able to opt out.
Last year, the council adopted clean energy goals that include Keene drawing all of its electricity from renewable sources by 2030. A community power program was identified as the most efficient way to achieve that. It would allow the city to buy its own electricity from renewable sources, and then act as the supplier for residents and businesses within the city of Keene.
The consultants would be responsible for designing the program, monitoring it and coming up with an implementation strategy. They would also act as a broker for electricity supply.
In June, an ad hoc committee, consisting of residents and a city councilor, was established to help draft a request for proposals, to which there were a pair of replies: the joint proposal from Good Energy and Standard Power, and another from Freedom Energy Logistics.
The RFP stipulated that the fee for consulting services would be a management fee per kilowatt-hour, in this case, a tenth of a cent.
“The way that the consultant is paid for this type of program is a little different,” city planner Mari Brunner told The Sentinel in an email Friday. “Rather than the City paying the consultant directly for services, the consultant will be paid directly by a third party competitive energy supplier, if a competitive supplier is selected. The City does not pay anyone directly for this program; the cost will be built into the electricity rate (if the program moves forward).”
Despite the finance committee’s unanimous approval of the recommendation Thursday, some concerns surfaced about hiring the consultants.
Councilor Terry Clark, a member of the finance committee, reminded his colleagues about Community Power New Hampshire, a developing initiative to create a community power program that incorporates multiple local governments. So far it includes Cheshire County, Lebanon and Hanover.
Clark worried that agreeing to hire the consultants now would prevent the city from being a part of Community Power New Hampshire later on.
“We can still talk about this, I don’t know why we have to vote on just these two companies right now without considering the other option,” Clark said. “We should consider the Community Power New Hampshire effort ... We need to at least look at this option before we go forward with this.”
City Planning Director Rhett Lamb said there has actually been extensive discussion about Community Power New Hampshire, but the organization is still coming together and will need some time before it’s ready to take action.
Dragon said moving ahead with a consulting agreement now puts the city in a position to assess all its options, and said she saw no downside to moving forward.
“By going out with our own consultant and getting pricing and signing a short-term agreement, we will know what we can do here locally,” Dragon said. “That gives time for this other group to get up and running, and then when we’re ready to renew, we will know what they can offer in terms of cost.”
Clark also worried about having the same firms both design the plan and carry it out, questioning whether the designs might call for things that are in the best interest of the consultants rather than the city.
Lamb said both Good Energy and Standard Power have been thoroughly vetted and “there’s no evidence these companies are just in it for themselves,” he said.
The committee’s recommendation will move on to the full City Council next week for a final vote. If they approve it and the consultants start, the council will have additional opportunities to weigh in as the plan is developed.